The Ultimate Tourney Primer

The other night I had what I think is a pretty good idea. Give one fact on every game in the tournament. It's part a challenge for me because I'm doing this with what I know,  and little to no further research (only valid research is stats to supplement an already known nugget). I'm writing this intro before starting so there's no promises you get something insightful but I've watched a ton of hoops this year and think for 32 first round games I can probably come up with something. Think of this as a guide for your average college hoops fan to sound smart as they watch the games with their buddies because I have no friends and watch way too much basketball.

Midwest Region:

1 Louisville vs 16 Liberty/North Carolina A&T
  • Louisville is the top overall seed thanks to their demolition of Syracuse in the Big East Tournament final.  The game turned in the 2nd half when the Cardinals turned up the press which is their biggest weapon. It allows them to score in bunches which is important because they can struggle offensively when the game slows down.
  • BONUS: Liberty is the reason the NCAA needs to change the rules for conference tournaments. If the tournament champions are going to get the automatic bids, you can't let every team in the conference tournament. Liberty lost 20 games playing in the Big South and has zero business being in the tournament. The regular season has to mean more.
2 Duke vs 15 Albany
  • Duke is my pick to win it all because I think they're the most stable team. They're going to defend and they have multiple scoring options in seniors Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee as well as freshman Rasheed Sulaimon
3 Michigan State vs 14 Valporaiso
  • The Spartans have one of the best backcourts in the country in junior Keith Appling and freshman Gary Harris but their biggest difference maker might be down low in Adreian Payne. The 6'10 junior averages 10+ points and 7.5 rebounds per game and along with Derrick Nix is a lot to handle inside.
4 St. Louis vs 13 New Mexico State
  • St. Louis is playing with an interim head coach in Jim Krews who's done an outstanding job after the death of legendary coach Rick Majerus. The Billikens are the best team in the Atlantic 10 which is one of the best leagues in the country and got 5 teams into the tournament.
5 Oklahoma State vs 12 Oregon
  • Everyone's focused on Oregon because they got screwed seeding wise but the guy to watch is Marcus Smart for Oklahoma St.  With a outstanding tournament, he could be the #1 pick in the NBA Draft.
6 Memphis vs 11 MTSU/St. Mary's
  • For now my fact will be about St. Mary's although they might not make it to the round of 64 at which point I'll change my fact here. Matthew Dellavedova is the reason they got in and while they barely made it in the field, this team is dangerous because 6'4" senior puts up 20 point games on the regular (11 this season).
7 Creighton vs 10 Cincinnati
  • Speaking of guys who can put up points, Doug McDermott is one of my favorite players to watch in the country. The way he moves without the ball is textbook. McDermott's dad, Greg, is his head coach.
  • BONUS: I spelled Cincinnati correctly on the first try for the first time in my life typing the heading for this.
8 Colorado State vs 9 Missouri
  • Much like Michael Carter-Williams for Syracuse, Phil Pressey can shoot Missouri out of games or pass them into wins. The last 4 games are a perfect example. Pressey took 1 and 3 shots in the Tigers two wins. He took 12 and 16 in the two losses. He played 30+ minutes in every game.
West Region

1 Gonzaga vs 16 Southern

  • I thought Miami (FL) deserved the #1 seed but the Bulldogs are a really really good. They're best player is Kelly Olynyk, a 7 foot center whose versatile game has him in position to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft. He's aslo Canadien. Eh.
2 Ohio State vs 15 Iona
  • Easy to tell you Aaron Craft is the best on-ball defender in the country and he's white and everyone else's fans hate him. However how about an Iona nugget? Lamont "Momo" Jones is a transfer from Arizona and was part of the team with Derrick Williams that beat Kyrie Irving's Duke team two years ago. Irving scored 28 and went #1 in the draft. Williams went #2. 
3 New Mexico vs 14 Harvard
  • New Mexico wing Tony Snell can flat out ball. He's the one with the dreads. That's all you need to know. Watch him every chance you get.
4 Kansas State vs 13 Boise State/La Salle
  • K-State's Rodney McGruder is one of the best scorers in the tournament. He put up 30 in their first tourney game last year. The whole offense is designed around him moving off the ball. Keep your eye on #22.
  • BONUS: La Salle's coach has a doctorate. Dr. John Giannini
5 Wisconsin vs 12 Marshall Henderson
  • Lots of studying of Wisconsin as I prepare to cover them, but this nugget goes to Marshall Henderson. He's brash. He's in your face. He gets buckets. He's great at beer pong. He likes Coors Light. He doesn't like the other coaches in the SEC for not voting him player of the year. He's white. People hate him. Confidence is not a problem. It's wildly entertaining and I cannot wait to cover him.
6 Arizona vs 11 Belmont
  • I actually know very little about these teams. Knew it would happen eventually. Arizona at the end of games is a mess. Belmont shoots a lot of threes and does so well. Popular upset pick. Belmont's in Nashville. Arizona is...well...in Arizona. #Knowledge
7 Notre Dame vs 10 Iowa State
  • Notre Dame's got a great inside/outside combo in Jack Cooley (inside) and Jerian Grant (outside). The most fun story is Garrick Sherman who had basically fallen out of the rotation until he was literally needed against Louisville. After not playing in all of regulation he came in and dropped 17 points in the 5 overtimes and has been in the rotation ever since.
8 Pittsburgh vs 9 Wichita State
  • Pittsburgh is ranked 7th in the KenPom.com rankings yet is an 8 seed. Needless to say that's the biggest disparity of any team. Their point guard Trey Woodall seems like he's been at Pitt forever because he kinda has. He and I graduated high school the same year. I've gone to two schools, graduated, got a job and got fired. He's still there.
South Region

1 Kansas vs 16 Western Kentucky

  • Watch #23 for Kansas. His name is Ben McLemore and he can fly. He's also one of the best shooters in the country, but more fun is to watch him dunk. He jumps easier than anyone I've ever seen.
  • BONUS: Another entrant in the "he's still there?!" department. Western Kentucky Senior Jamal Crook was playing there when I was at Middle Tennessee covering the Sun Belt. 
2 Georgetown vs 15 Florida Gulf Coast
  • Otto Porter for Georgetown might be the best player in college basketball. He can do everything and he does. He nearly beat Syracuse single-handedly 3 times. The Hoyas also defend harder than anyone else in the country except maybe Louisville. They give your guards zero airspace.
3 Florida vs 14 Northwestern State
  • One of the streakiest players in the tournament is Florida's Kenny Boynton. When he's on he can score with the best of em. When he's off, he can shoot them out of games. The Gators do have balance though with Patric Young inside and Mike Rosario (Rutgers transfer) to supplement Boynton on the perimeter.
  • BONUS: I didn't know Northwestern State existed either. Further research shows it's in Natchitoches, LA.
4 Michigan vs 13 San Diego State
  • If Porter from Georgetown isn't the best player in the country it's probably Trey Burke. The Michigan point guard is a playmaker on both ends of the floor who can score, help others score and prevent his man from scoring. Kinda all you want in a point guard.
5 VCU vs 12 Akron
  • I didn't watch enough of VCU this year to know em real well but they're style is signature. They press full court, making them a popular upset pick over Kansas in the Sweet 16 because KU doesn't have a true point guard to handle the pressure. I don't think they're gonna get passed Michigan though making that a mute point.
6 UCLA vs 11 Minnesota
  • The most popular upset pick in the tournament is this game. Why? Minnesota has an NBA quality big in Trevor Mbakwe on it's front line and crashes the boards with reckless abandon while UCLA doesn't ever box out anybody. The Bruins are also now without Jordan Anderson who might've been their best player. 
7 San Diego St vs 10 Oklahoma
  • This is pathetic but I'm punting here. I should know more about both teams. I covered the Big 12 yet know nothing about OU. In my defense, I was fired before conference play started. Syracuse beat San Diego State to start the year on a boat. That was a long time ago and I don't remember a thing about them. So there's your fact. SDSU lost on a boat to start the year.
8 UNC vs 9 Villanova
  • You'll get two facts here to make up for the prior punt. This is a good one too. UNC has been very good down the stretch of the season and is under-seeded. The change in play was sparked after Roy Williams changed his starting lineup and basically went "screw it" and started his best 5 instead of worrying about positions. It's a small lineup featuring 6'9" James Michael McAdoo at the center spot and it almost beat Miami for the ACC tourney title. 
  • BONUS: Also watch Reggie Bullock for UNC. The guy can flat out shoot and he's got a sick mohawk.
  • BONUS BONUS: Speaking of shooters, watch Ryan Arcidiacono for Villanova. Also don't get confused by his name when they say Arcidiacono every time. It's his last name. Not "Archie Diacono." He's only a freshman but Jay Wright has admitted he's petrified to take him on the floor. He's that important.


East Region

1 Indiana vs 16 LIU-Brooklyn/James Madison

  • Let's not get cute. Victor Oladipo is as fun to watch as any player in the country for Indiana. He's a 6'4" junior who'd basically been a good wing defender and that's about it. Now he does everything and man can he fly.

2 Miami vs 15 Pacific

  • Again, let's focus the spotlight where it belongs. Shane Larkin has gone from "Barry Larkin's son" (as in the Hall of Fame baseball player) to one a name on his own as one of the best point guards in the country.

3 Marquette vs 14 Davidson

  • Popular upset pick because Marquette hasn't that great away from home. When you say "what do they do really well?" there's not really an answer. They're just solid all-around. Lots of good. Nothing great.

4 Syracuse vs 13 Montana

  • Pick your Syracuse fact I could throw at you. Key to everything is Michael Carter-Williams. If he gets steals and gets the Orange in transition, they're as good as anyone. If the offense gets bogged down in the halfcourt, MCW tends to turn it over and bad things happen. Montana is very capable of pulling this upset. Veteran team who shoots the 3 well.

5 UNLV vs 12 Cal

  • Keep your eyes down low on Anthony Bennett for UNLV. He's a top 5 pick in the June NBA Draft.


6 Butler vs 11 Bucknell

  • Butler has tournament experience and the capability to beat anyone. They beat Indiana earlier this year. Can they put it together for 6 games and win it all? Probably not, but they're never an easy out because they're super well coached. They've got a couple of excellent players including Rotnei Clarke (scorer) and Roosevelt Jones both does a little bit of everything.


7 Illinois vs 10 Colorado

  • If Colorado wins don't be surprised because they're ranked higher in the BPI. However the best player on the floor will be Brandon Paul from Illinois who single-handedly beat Gonzaga earlier this year.

8 NC State vs 9 Temple

  • NC State was the favorite to win the ACC in the preseason and has a ton of talent but keep your eyes on Khalif Wyatt for Temple. He's not hard to find. He shoots a ton and makes a ton and single handedly beat Syracuse and almost did it again to Kansas a week later.

Want more? Listen to the bracket preview podcast: